Shanton v. St. Charles Community Unit School District, 2017 WL 4865536 (N.D.Ill. 2017)

Copyright and Works for Hire

General Interest to School Officials
Case: Shanton v. St. Charles Community Unit School District, 2017 WL 4865536 (N.D.Ill. 2017)
Date: Wednesday, October 25, 2017

In 2005, Audrey Shanton, a computer lab assistant at St. Charles Community Unit School District 303, and her husband, developed a basic computer program that could track certain student information, such as student attendance, based on reading barcodes. The original program was created outside of work and without the District’s knowledge. In 2008, the District became aware of the program and asked Ms. Shanton if she would regularly update the program for use in the District. Ms. Shanton agreed to do so, albeit informally, and she rewrote and updated the program every year for the District through 2015. In 2015, the District informed her that it no longer wanted an updated program because it was going to use a new commercial program. Ms. Shanton, upon viewing the commercial program, believed it was a reversed engineered version of the derivative program she created in 2008. She sued the District for copyright infringement, claiming she owned the derivatives of the original 2005 program.

The District sought to have Ms. Shanton’s infringement claim dismissed on the basis that the derivative works of her original 2005 program were “works for hire” and belonged to the District. The court considered a number of factors to determine if the works belonged to Ms. Shanton or the District: (1) the hiring party’s right to control the manner and means by which the product is accomplished; (2) the skill required to create the material; (3) the location of the work; (4) the duration of the relationship between the parties; (5) whether the hiring party has the right to assign additional projects to the hired party; and (6) the provision of employee benefits. The court sided with the District and dismissed the infringement claim, finding that although Ms. Shanton maintained close control over the program updates after 2008 and could have rewritten the program off school grounds, it was clear that she was acting as an agent of the District because the program updates were made at the District’s request and on District property, and she received no additional pay for the updates. This case illustrates that works made within the scope of one’s employment belong to the employer, and it appears to be the first case in Illinois to specifically address the work for hire doctrine in the K-12 context. Whether a particular work qualifies as a work for hire is entirely dependent on the particular facts of a situation. Sample PRESS Policy 5:170, Copyright, generally addresses works made for hire and directs the superintendent to manage the development of instructional materials and computer programs authored by employees in the scope of their employment.